Chick-fil-A will serve antibiotic-free chicken at its nearly 1,800 restaurants within the next five years, the Atlanta-based company announced on Tuesday. "This is a huge deal," says one health activist.
The popular fast food chicken chain will reportedly be asking its suppliers to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in verifying that antibiotics were not administered to chickens at any point between the farm and the plate. The necessary changes to production cannot apparently be implemented immediately and must be phased in over time, which is the reason for the five-year timeline.
"Since our family business began 67 years ago, we have focused on our customers. It's why we insist upon using the highest quality ingredients," Dan Cathy, president and chief executive officer of Chick-fil-A, said in a statement. "We want to continue that heritage, and offering antibiotic-free chicken is the next step."
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The use of antibiotics to fatten up farm animals and prevent disease has increased in recent years and become a growing concern among many including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which has warned against antibiotics in meat because the practice could lead to the growth of antibiotic-resistant germs, the Associated Press reported
"Because all uses of antimicrobial drugs, in both humans and animals, contribute to the development of antimicrobial resistance, it is important to use these drugs only when medically necessary," the FDA said on its website in December as it announced a plan aimed at phasing out certain antibiotics in the food production industry.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for meat and poultry production in 2011, compared with 7.7 million pounds being sold for human use, CNN reported
"This is a huge deal," Vani Hari, a health activist and creator of the website FoodBabe.com
, told USA Today
. "This is the most concerning food issue of our time, because if we can't treat diseases with antibiotics, it has the potential to wipe out the human race."
In 2012, Hari had a four-hour meeting with Chick-fil-A executives after the food blogger wrote about controversial ingredients in Chik-fil-A's products that year. Among the topics discussed at the meeting was the use of antibiotics in their chicken, CNN noted.
In addition to removing antibiotics from its chicken, Chick-fil-A has also removed yellow dye from its chicken soup and is said to be considering removing other additives, such as high fructose corn syrup in dressings and sauces and artificial ingredients in its buns to create a more healthy dining experience for its customers.
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